Finding online demographic and socioeconomic data for states, counties, cities, and other smaller units of government

IRP information specialists are frequently asked if they can identify sources of information on poverty and other demographic characteristics for small areas or small groups—for example, "How many elderly poor are there in Dane County, Wisconsin?" or "What is the poorest city in my state?" There is often no easy way to find such information; in some cases, it does not exist in an easily retrievable form.

In this FAQ, we have put together some basic information about sources of local data that are available online and in a form reasonably accessible by nonspecialists. We have tried to include sites containing county and local statistics for a range of topics related to poverty: basic demographic information, employment and income, health and mortality, social assistance programs, school districts and schools. The list comprises more than 75 sources, but it is by no means complete. We hope it will be helpful.

Census Bureau

The Census Bureau offers a number of useful tools for finding local information about socioeconomic characteristics and demographics and guidance on how to choose the right estimate for individual needs on its Poverty page, including the data resources listed below.

American Community Survey (ACS)

An ongoing survey providing socioeconomic data for states, counties, and other jurisdictions and creates period estimates, which represent characteristics of the population and housing over a specific period of data collection. One-year estimates provide 12 months of collected data for areas with populations of 65,000 or more. Three-year ACS estimates provide 36 months of data for areas with populations of 20,000 or more. And five-year estimates provide 60 months of collected data for all areas. For guidance on using ACS data, see the Census Data Users Guide.

American FactFinder

Basic data on population, housing, economic, and geographic information in the form of tables and maps for the United States, states, counties, cities, towns, American Indian reservations, Puerto Rico, and the island areas. Community Facts offers tables or maps of such information for states and counties, and cities, towns, or zip codes of sufficient size to make reasonably reliable estimates.

Consumer Expenditure Survey

Data on expenditures, income, and demographic characteristics of consumers in the United States in tables, databases, news releases, reports, and public-use microdata files. Published tables provide Consumer Expenditure Survey data by classifications that include income quintile, income decile, income class, age of reference person, size of consumer unit, number of earners, composition of consumer unit, region of residence, housing tenure, type of area (urban-rural), race, Hispanic origin, occupation, and highest education level of any member. Conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data are collected by a quarterly interview survey and weekly diary survey (mutually exclusive samples).

CE Family-Level Extracts

Consumer-unit level data going back to 1980 that are produced by the Congressional Budget Office and distributed by the National Bureau for Economic Research.

County Business Pattern

Subnational economic data in an annual series by industry, including the number of establishments, recent employment, first quarter payroll, and annual payroll. These data are thought to be useful for studying the economic activity of small areas; analyzing economic changes over time; and as a benchmark for other statistical series, surveys, and databases between economic censuses.

Historical County-Level Poverty Estimates Tool

Interactive Excel-based visualization tool that draws from the 1960–2000 decennial censuses and more recent estimates based on 5-year data from the American Community Survey to produce data on the number and percentage of people in poverty for each U.S. county.

Population and Housing Unit Estimates (PEP)

Population estimates for the United States, individual states, counties, cities, towns, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its municipios.

Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)

A limited range of estimates for selected statistics on poverty and income for states, counties, and school districts, which combine data from administrative records, post-census population estimates, and the decennial census with direct estimates from the American Community Survey to provide reliable single-year estimates. The SAIPE model-based single-year estimates better reflect current conditions than multi-year survey estimates. The Income and Poverty Interactive Data Tool is an application for analyzing data from the SAIPE program.

State Data Centers (SDC)

SDCs are joint projects of the Census Bureau and particular states that make state data available to the public through a network of state agencies, universities, libraries, and regional and local governments. Find links to states' lead agencies on the SDC Member Network page.

Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)

All-inclusive information about the income and program participation of individuals and households in the United States and extensive data on many other factors of economic well-being. SIPP also collects extensive information about family dynamics, educational attainment, housing expenditures, asset ownership, health insurance, disability, childcare, and food security, providing information that places the income and program recipiency of individuals and households into the family and social context.

USA Counties Information

Permits viewing online of one state/county/table at a time and comparison of the data for a table with other counties in a state.

Other Federal Government Agencies

In addition to the Census Bureau, many other federal agencies collect statistics on state, county, and local socioeconomic characteristics and demographics that are made available to the public, including the sources for listed below.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Survey of Consumer Finances

Usually a triennial cross-sectional survey of families in the United States including information on balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics. Information is also included from related surveys of pension providers and the earlier such surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve Board. No other study collects comparable information.

Bureau of Economic Analysis State and Local Area Personal Income

State, county, and metropolitan statistical area personal income including per capita income back to 1969.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities

Annual data on the rate and number of work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatal injuries, and how these statistics vary by incident, industry, geography, occupation, and other characteristics.

Census of Agriculture

Complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Even small plots of land—whether rural or urban—growing fruit, vegetables or some food animals count if $1,000 or more of such products were raised and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the Census year. Taken only once every five years, this census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures.

Census of Agriculture Historical Archive

Public archive of Census publications published prior to 2007.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

State data about U.S. residents regarding health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services. Data are collected from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health Interview Survey

Data on a wide range of health topics collected through personal household interviews since 1957.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics

Downloadable public-use data files providing access to data sets, documentation, and questionnaires from NCHS surveys and data collection systems, including links to the following:

  • National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)
  • National Health Care Surveys (multiple)
  • National Vital Statistics System (NVSS)
  • National Immunization Survey (NIS)
  • Longitudinal Studies of Aging (LSOA)
  • State and Local Area Integrated Telephone Survey (SLAITS; multiple)
  • NCHS Data Linkage
  • Compressed Mortality File

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG)

Information on family life, marriage and divorce, pregnancy, infertility, use of contraception, and men's and women's health.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Research, Statistics, Data & Systems

Description of information and resources made available, including through the CMS Data Navigator interface.

Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service

Wide range of poverty-related data products on county, state, national, and international levels, including food insecurity, farm household income and characteristics, and county-level poverty and employment information.

Department of Agriculture Rural America at a Glance, 2016 Edition

Indicators of social and economic conditions in rural areas, focusing on the U.S. rural economy, including employment, population, poverty, and income trends. Include the following: rural indicators, population, employment, rural unemployment, labor force participation, nonmetropolitan, earnings, income, nonmetro, rural economy, metro, rural America, census data, population growth, poverty, county typology, and recession.

Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service

Agricultural statistics at the state, county, zip code, and Congressional district levels. Reports, statistical tables, and some mapping features based on recent Census of Agriculture results and other surveys.

Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis Interactive Data Application

Regional information on Gross Domestic Product for states and metropolitan areas and personal income for states, counties, metropolitan areas, metropolitan divisions, and combined statistical areas.

Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

This center is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES fulfills a Congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally. Includes the Integrated Postsecondary Data System, which provides information on U.S. colleges, universities, and technical and vocational institutions.

Department of Health & Human Services Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project

Family of databases, software tools and related products developed through a Federal-State-Industry partnership and sponsored by the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Databases, which are derived from administrative data, cover encounter-level, clinical and nonclinical information including diagnoses and procedures, discharge status, patient demographics, and charges for all patients, regardless of payer (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, uninsured), beginning in 1988. The HCUP databases are based on the data collection efforts of data organizations in participating states that have partnered with AHRQ.

Department of Housing and Urban Development Consolidated Planning/CHAS Data

Custom tabulations of American Community Survey (ACS) data from the U.S. Census Bureau known as the "CHAS" data (Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy), show the extent of housing problems and housing needs, particularly for low-income households. The CHAS data are used by local governments to plan how to spend HUD funds, and may also be used by HUD to distribute grant funds. Includes link to simple web-based table generator query tool as well as access to large datasets using data management software (such as SAS or SPSS).

Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD User

Data and links for individual metropolitan areas, central cities, and suburbs in a "State of the Cities Data Systems."

Department of Housing and Urban Development State of the Cities Data Systems (SOCDS)

Data for individual metropolitan areas, central cities, and suburbs.

Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

Crime and justice statistics for selected large counties and metropolitan areas, as well as for states, including information on corrections, courts, crime type, Indian Country justice, law enforcement, and victims.

Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Information by state, county, and Metropolitan Statistical Area on employment, inflation and prices, unemployment, pay and benefits, spending and time use, productivity, workplace injuries, and international and regional resources. Data tools are available (Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject). See also Local Area Unemployment Statistics and Occupational Employment Statistics, which are available for the nation as a whole, individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas.

Economic Report of the President

Annual report prepared by the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers that examines the nation's economic progress using text and extensive data appendices. The report is transmitted to Congress no later than 10 days after the submission of the Budget of the United States Government. The report includes: current and foreseeable trends and annual numerical goals on topics including employment, production, real income and federal budget outlays; employment objectives for significant groups of the labor force; annual numeric goals; and a plan for carrying out program objectives.

Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology

Interagency committee dedicated to improving the quality of Federal statistics. The FCSM was created by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to inform and advise OMB and the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy (ICSP) on methodological and statistical issues that affect the quality of Federal data. The site offers an extensive report series and descriptions of federal statistical agency products.

Gateway to Federal Statistics Sources

Fedstats

This site is a good place to find the complete range of official statistical information produced by the federal government.

Internal Revenue Service Tax Statistics

Data that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system.

Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) and Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) Series

A national longitudinal study of health and well-being conducted in multiple waves concerning midlife (the years between ages 30 and 70) designed by a multidisciplinary team of scholars of psychology, sociology, epidemiology, demography, anthropology, medicine, and health care policy. Information collected from a national sample of Americans that seeks to identify the major biomedical, psychological, and social factors that permit some people to achieve good health, psychological well-being, and social responsibility during their adult years. MIDUS is funded by the National Institute on Aging.

National Science Foundation Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT)

An integrated data system that is a unique source of longitudinal information on the education and employment of the college-educated U.S. science and engineering workforce. These data are collected through biennial surveys: the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG); the National Survey of Recent College Graduates (NSRCG) (discontinued after 2010); and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR). SESTAT data are available for download or through the SESTAT Data Tool, which allows users to generate their own data tables.

Social Security Administration Research, Statistics, & Policy Analysis

Demographic and socioeconomic data, as well as data on Social Security Programs; for example, data on SSI recipients by state and county are available for every year since 1998.

Wage Determinations Online

Provides a single location for federal contracting officers to use in obtaining appropriate Service Contract Act (SCA) and Davis-Bacon Act (DBA) wage determinations (WDs) for each official contract action. WDOL.gov is part of the Integrated Acquisition Environment. It is a collaborative effort of the Office of Management and Budget, Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Energy, and Department of Commerce.

Academic Institutions

Many academic institutions collaborate with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to conduct surveys on socioeconomic characteristics and demographics, often including information at the sub-state level. Selected data sets are made available for public use.

DiversityData.org

Metropolitan area indicators of diversity, opportunity, quality of life and health for various racial and ethnic population groups with over 100 measures for 362 metropolitan areas. The project is managed by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School, Brandeis University, and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

DiversityDataKids.org

A partner site to diversitydata.org, this site provides tools for exploring hundreds of measures of child well-being and policy analysis, enabling users to, for example, analyze data by race/ethnicity, compare policy indicators across states, and compare data across states, metropolitan areas, counties, large cities, and large school districts. The project is managed by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School, Brandeis University, and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, University of Virginia

Custom data extracts by state back to 1977, including historical census browser of U.S. states and counties from 1790 to 1960; county-level uniform crime reports; U.S. presidential election maps, 1860 to 1996; statistical atlas of Virginia, and social sciences data sets.

Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, Harvard University

National- and U.S. state-level geospatial data across a wide range of information such as administrative boundaries, business locations, climate datasets, and transportation.

Health and Retirement Study

Longitudinal panel study informing public resource for data on aging, health, and economic well-being of adults over age 50 in the United States since 1990, conducted at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging in the Social Security Administration.

IPUMS

World's largest accessible database of census microdata and survey data from around the world integrated across time and space. IPUMS integration and documentation enables study of change, comparative research, merging of information across data types, and analyses of individuals within family and community context. Data and services available without charge. Over the past 25 years, IPUMS has received 70 federal grants and contracts totaling over $140 million. Major funding for these projects has come from: National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Food and Drug Administration. IPUMS includes data produced by a broad range of agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Science Foundation, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. IPUMS is part of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.

National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research

Facilitates research in criminal justice and criminology, through the preservation, enhancement, and sharing of computerized data resources; through the production of original research based on archived data; and through specialized training workshops in quantitative analysis of crime and justice data. NACJD is also home to the following program (separately maintained):

Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods

Extensive, interdisciplinary study of how families, schools, and neighborhoods affect child and adolescent development that was designed to advance the understanding of the developmental pathways of both positive and negative human social behaviors including the pathways to and away from juvenile delinquency, adult crime, substance abuse, and violence. Note: Nearly all PHDCN data require an individual application with supporting materials to obtain the data.

National Long-Term Care Survey (NLTCS)

Longitudinal survey designed to study changes in the health and functional status of older Americans (aged 65+), which also tracks health expenditures, Medicare service use, and the availability of personal, family, and community resources for caregiving. The survey began in 1982, and follow-up surveys were conducted in 1984, 1989, 1994, 1999, and 2004.

National Survey of Families and Households

Wide range of information on family life to serve as a resource for research across disciplinary perspectives. Life-history information collected includes: respondent's family living arrangements in childhood, departures and returns to the parental home, and histories of marriage, cohabitation, education, fertility, and employment. The design permits the detailed description of past and current living arrangements and other characteristics and experiences, as well as the analysis of the consequences of earlier patterns on current states, marital and parenting relationships, kin contact, and economic and psychological well-being. Interviews were conducted in 1987–1988, 1992–1994, and 2001–2003.

NORC

NORC (not an acronym) experts at the University of Chicago gather data and develop measures to assess the economy, markets, the workforce, education, training, and learning, in a wide range of areas. NORC delivers data and analysis needed to drive evidence-based decisions and improve public policy; offer expertise in study design and survey methodology, statistical design and analysis, data collection, program and policy analysis and research, dissemination and knowledge management, and information technology.

Record of American Democracy (ROAD), 1984–1990

Data include election returns, socioeconomic summaries, and demographic measures of the American public at extraordinarily low levels of geographic aggregation. The NSF-supported ROAD project conducted at Harvard University covers every state in the country from 1984 through 1990 (including some off-year elections). One collection of data sets includes every election at and above State House, along with party registration and other variables, in each state for the roughly 170,000 precincts nationwide (about 60 times the number of counties). Another collection has added to these (roughly 30–40) political variables an additional 3,725 variables merged from the 1990 U.S. Census for 47,327 aggregate units (about 15 times the number of counties) about the size one or more cities or towns. These units completely tile the U.S. landmass. This collection also includes geographic boundary files so users can easily draw maps with these data.

Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN)

University of Michigan-based organization that creates demographic media, including user guides, websites, and hands-on classroom computer materials, using U.S. census data. Provides charts to visualize trends, allows data downloads, and creates interactive maps.

Survey of Economic Expectations (SEE), University of Wisconsin–Madison

Nationwide survey that examines how Americans in the labor force perceive their near-term economic future. The SEE questions are asked as a periodic module of the WISCON Survey, an ongoing project of the University of Wisconsin Survey Center. The WISCON Survey consists of daily telephone interviews with a nationwide probability sample, including a set of constant core questions about experiences and attitudes, and additional questions such as those in the SEE module.

University of Wisconsin–Madison Data & Information Services Center

Quantitative, numeric microdata for researchers and students conducting secondary analysis in the social sciences. Offers an array of data products with menu-based interfaces for users unfamiliar with statistical software. Collection includes longitudinal surveys, macroeconomic indicators, election studies, population studies, socialization patterns, poverty measures, labor force participation, public opinion polls, education and health data, and census data. Certain categories of materials may be used by the general public.

For Wisconsin data, see also:

Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Data collected as part of annual evaluations of the Milwaukee Parental Choice [pilot] Program. The research program began in the fall of 1990 and continued to 1995. The program—the first in the United States to provide major subsidies to private schools as part of a general voucher program—was designed to provide opportunities for poor students in Milwaukee Public Schools. The State of Wisconsin paid the private schools what the Milwaukee Public Schools would have received in state aid for each student. Free registration is required for data downloads.

UW Badger Poll

Statewide random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone survey of approximately 500 Wisconsin adults. One adult per household is randomly selected to complete the interview on topics including people's opinions about politics, the economy, and their communities.

Wisconsin Longitudinal Study

Long-term study of over 10,300 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. The WLS provides information about the life course, intergenerational transfers and relationships, family functioning, physical and mental health and well-being, and morbidity and mortality from late adolescence through 2011. WLS data also cover social background, youthful aspirations, schooling, military service, labor market experiences, family characteristics and events, social participation, psychological characteristics and retirement.

Wisconsin Food Security Project

Localized information about the food security infrastructure in Wisconsin. Users can create custom maps, community profiles, and charts. Selected data are also downloadable. The project promotes food security by helping planners and policymakers identify strengths and gaps in their communities, and by helping service providers and individuals and families to locate food-related resources. The project is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Human Ecology and UW Extension Family Living Programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations

In addition to government sources of poverty-related statistics at sub-state levels, there are a number of such data resources from nongovernmental organizations that are available for public use, including those listed below.

American Economic Association Resources for Economists on the Internet: Data

Includes links to primary and secondary data sources, including U.S. macro and regional data sources, and information about finance and financial markets.

Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center and Data Book

County-, city-, and community-level indicators of children's well-being, allowing users to create specific tables and graphs in many combinations and comparative formats. The site notes that the data were assembled through the national Kids Count Network, and the availability of particular indicators varies among states.

Brookings Institution Employment by Race and Place

Interactive data tool provides employment data by race in the nation's largest local jurisdictions—cities and counties with populations over 500,000. These 130 places account for about half of the nation's population and include big cities (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles), smaller cities (Nashville, TN; Louisville, KY), dense urbanized counties (Alameda, CA; Fulton, GA), and places with a small-town or rural feel (Stanislaus County, CA; Lancaster County, PA). That is, even though they all pass the 500,000-population threshold, they include a diversity of places and are not limited to large urban areas.

Child Care and Early Education Research Connections

Resources indexed on the site cover an extensive range of research on child care and early education and related policies, bringing together original research, syntheses, fact sheets and briefs, datasets, instruments, and other research-related resources from the wide range of social science disciplines and professional fields that study early care and education. The resource results from a collaboration between the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research and National Center for Children in Poverty and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cornell Linking Economic Development and Child Care 50 State Database

Profiles 30 sources of current, national sources of comparative data on the early care and education sector including: child care economic data, demographic data, and early care and education program (policy) data. Included are federal census and administrative data, federal survey data, and information from national organizations that collect or maintain comparative data on children and families or early care and education more generally.

General Social Survey Data Explorer

Data on contemporary American society to monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes, some since 1972. In addition, because the GSS adopted questions from earlier surveys, trends can be followed for up to 70 years. The survey contains a standard core of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal questions, plus topics of special interest. Topics include civil liberties, crime and violence, intergroup tolerance, morality, national spending priorities, psychological well-being, social mobility, and stress and traumatic events. The survey is conducted by the independent research institution NORC (not an acronym) at the University of Chicago.

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts

Information by state in the following categories: demographics and the economy; health costs and budgets; health coverage and uninsured; health insurance and managed care; health reform; health status; HIV/AIDS; Medicaid and CHIP; Medicare; minority health; providers and service use; and women's health.

Internet Data Sources for Social Scientists

The Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER) maintains this list of data sources.

MDRC Public Use Data Files

Source data used in MDRC analyses on a wide range of topics related to poverty such as public program participation, program evaluation efforts in cities, and barriers to employment.

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Exceptional source of historical economic and trade data, as well as some series on health care and vital statistics.

New York City Longitudinal Survey of Well-being

Repeated panel study conducted by the Columbia Population Research Center which is tracking the dynamics of poverty, hardship, and well-being among representative samples of residents of New York City. The Poverty Tracker website provides interactive tools for exploring the longitudinal survey data.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 500 Cities Local Health Data

Data analysis of 27 chronic disease measures for the 500 largest U.S. cities and the census tracts within, available via an interactive website. The 500 Cities project is a collaboration between Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the CDC Foundation. The project provides city- and census tract-level small area estimates for chronic disease risk factors, health outcomes, and clinical preventive service use for the largest 500 cities in the United States.

Tax Foundation

Data on tax rates on income, consumption, comparisons among states, results of opinion polls on taxes, state corporate income tax rates and brackets, state and local tax rates, and much more. Some sections have extensive time series, whereas others have only the most recent year or two.

Union Membership and Coverage Database

Private and public sector labor union membership, coverage, and density estimates compiled from the monthly household Current Population Survey (CPS). Economy-wide estimates begin in 1973; estimates by state, detailed industry, and detailed occupation begin in 1983; and estimates by metropolitan area begin in 1986. The database was created in 2002 and is updated annually.

The answer to the question we posed at the beginning, "How many elderly poor are there in Dane County, Wisconsin?": Almost 5 percent (4.9 percent) of individuals age 65 and over in Dane County had incomes below the official poverty level in 2015 according to the American Community Survey 2011–2015 five-year estimates.